Transit Matters

David Rider with The Star, in an article everybody linked to today:

And, despite fears that Mayor Rob Ford’s focus on getting more subway into Scarborough will kill light-rail-based Transit City, signs point to a hybrid plan with at least the Eglinton Crosstown LRT surviving, and Toronto paying a premium on the provincially funded expansion to get more of it underground and otherwise away from road traffic.

via Ford-Transit City hybrid plan in the works –

Here’s the thing about the big transit mess in Toronto right now: there are a bunch of players and all of them want to come out of this looking like geniuses who led big transportation initiatives. What we’re dealing with isn’t a simple LRT-versus-subways ideological battle—it’s a complicated mess of political back-and-forth tied up in: 1) an upcoming provincial election; 2) left-leaning back-room boys and policy wonks who are concerned that reactionary conservatism is the new hotness for Ontario voters; and 3) a relatively small pool of money earmarked for transit that, small as it is, represents the best opportunity for expansion we’ve seen in decades.

Those playing this weird game include:

Mayor Rob Ford – An SUV-driving, highway-loving kid of guy by his own admission, I think he’s actually the person who cares the least about all of this. He stated several times during his campaign that, should the province refuse to let him use Transit City funding for his subways to Scarborough, the city just wouldn’t build anything. The thing that matters to Ford is, of course, getting his way. He doesn’t want to come out of this looking like he compromised or in any way continued with a plan that will always be credited to his predecessor.

Karen Stintz – The alleged TTC Chair who did not speak once on the issue of declaring the TTC an essential service when it was debated in council. Has not expressed much of an opinion on any transit matter. Before becoming a Ford-boosting TTC chair, she campaigned to save Transit City alongside David Miller, owing to the fact that the Eglinton LRT – the crown jewel of the plan as a cross-town route with subway-level operating speeds and a big underground section in the middle – runs right through her ward. She seems willing to toe the mayor’s line on this, but his plan doesn’t officially contain any transit on Eglinton. Which you’d think would be a problem for her. Has an opportunity to be seen as an effective ‘bridge-builder’ if she can help broker a new plan. But probably doesn’t want to be seen as just carrying on with an Adam Giambrone legacy project either.

Metrolinx and Bruce McCuaig – The new, GTA-wide transit planning agency has the most to lose. If the mayor is able to steamroll through a change to Metrolinx’s vaunted “Big Move” plan, the next debate will be What the hell is the point of Metrolinx? They’re fighting for their very lives to preserve the fundamentals of the existing plan, even if it means making some small allowances to Ford’s get-out-of-the-way-of-my-car ethos. Eglinton, mentioned above, has emerged as the big priority. Metrolinx has always wanted to make changes to the line—at times they’ve suggested both running it with SkyTrain-style ITSC technology and running it elevated—but fundamentally they seem committed to the fundamentals of the line.

Dalton McGuinty and the Ontario Liberals – The McGuinty Liberals are in full-on election mode, preparing to battle Tim Hudak in the fall. Hudak’s platform looks to be little more than “Hey, these guys suck at governing” which, weirdly, could be pretty effective. Some people working in political circles are also convinced that the Ford win means there’s an appetite for more right-wing, gravy-busting politics. I’m not sure this is true, but the McGuinty Liberals are still in a tough position where they need to simultaneously not piss off the new mayor of Toronto by stonewalling him while also look like strong, effective leaders with a plan—through Metrolinx—for  transit in the GTA.

Eglinton is rapidly emerging as the central issue and the one that really matters. The Scarborough RT replacement will happen regardless of what mode is chosen, and Sheppard is not going to impact the city as much as the proposed Eglinton line would. (Finch West riders are left in the cold, alas.)

Eglinton matters to Karen Stintz because it matters to her Ward constituents. It matters to Metrolinx because it’s the big showpiece of Transit City, and thus their Big Move. It matters to McGuinty and the Liberals because it runs through several mid-Toronto ridings that could, conceivably, go blue in the fall.

And it matters to Rob Ford because he’s the only one who doesn’t seem to want it.

AFTERWORD: Total speculation zone, but I thought this quote from Metrolinx CEO McCuaig was interesting:

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT “reaches across the entire city; it connects to the regional systems, the various GO lines, it ultimately connects into Pearson airport and into the Mississauga transitway,” McCuaig said.

That caught my attention because both the connection to Pearson and to the Mississauga transitway were elements cut in the most recent round of Ontario budget cutbacks, prompting the “Save Transit City” campaign in the spring. Could the province be willing to restore some of that funding to push up the second phase of the line (to the airport and into Mississauga) as part of their 2011 election platform? That would add some juice to their popularity and give Metrolinx something to hang their hats on. And Ford would be hard-pressed to fight against it.

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